February 18, 2022
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3.5 / 5
Polarizing Polar: An Exploitation Film For the Modern Viewer
In the shadow of towering film production companies lived dozens of grindhouses, genres, and low-budget films deemed too “unclean” for the modern film audience. But somehow, these B and C level films were craved enough to create a whole empire in itself. The exploitation film genre is used as an umbrella term for a mirage of subgenres ranging from the better-known monster movies, slashers and splatter films, and blaxploitation films, to the lesser-known Canuxploitation, spacepoiltation, and Giallo films.
Exploitation films existed to capitalize on either the audience or on the current social climate. Often, "mockbusters" would trick an average movie watcher into buying or renting a small budget rip-off of a movie backed by a large production company by creating a convincing enough cover or concept. They suggested they were high-quality, and almost always, they were not. Sometimes charming in their awfulness, but always terrible, mockbusters were bound to disappoint. The goal is to exploit the audience, either with a low-quality cash grab or disturbing or taboo material that highlighted sex (sometimes to the point of becoming softcore pornography), drug use, intense violence, gore, and other material meant to illicit a shock response.
With the rise of The Motion Picture Association’s censorship criteria in 1968, these films had to create their movie theaters called "grindhouses." The use of “grind” came from the fast-paced production of the films due to how little money and time it took to make them (literally “grinding them out”), as well as the slang “bump and grind” that stemmed from the burlesque clubs of the time. They were meant to have a quick and dirty turnaround to make as much money as possible in the least amount of time.
Exploitation films were more often than not, as stated before, terrible. Corny, with little to no plot and a low budget to the point of being comical, the flicks could never capture the quality of movies released by large production companies. There are of course exceptions like Night of the Living Dead, I Spit on Your Grave, Pink Flamingos, and others that would go on to become cult classics outside of the grindhouse circuit. Like these outliers, certain exploitation films can succeed despite their low budget and graphic content.
But this can be a problem. Plenty of these films thrives off of preexisting structures of misogyny, racism, and the shock value of sensitive and triggering topics, such as homophobia or sexual content (consensual or not). The film, like any art form, should challenge us, but there’s a difference between a director trying to present a topic or issue to any audience that can be hard to watch and a director that shows explicit or shocking content because they know it will sell. [read more]